Beware of pattern monkeys, and avoid becoming one!

by Jeff Huang

If you’ve been to at least one of my classes, you’ve probably heard me say that dancing is all about communication with your partner. After all, the reason dancing exists is to help people socialize, to entertain, and to foster self-expression.

Unfortunately, there is a particular niche of dancers labeled “pattern monkeys”, whose sole purpose on the dance floor is to execute/follow combinations after combinations, moves after moves; never blinking, never smiling, almost as if he or she has reached a deep zen state of other-worldly detachment. These are what most dancers’ worst nightmares are made of, and a chance encounter with one could turn a healthy, well-adjusted person into a broken pile of self-doubt and regret before the song is half over.

*deep breath* Alright, full disclosure: I was once *gasp* a pattern monkey. I was often so deeply entranced in making a particular combination work that I completely forgot that there is another human being in front of me. In the meantime, my partners (including Ana) were wondering where I have been for the last five minutes, and why in the world are they dancing with me, when I’m not really dancing with them. It has been a traumatizing experience, but after multiple interventions (read: getting yelled at by people), and confrontations (read: getting yelled at loudly by people), I’ve finally come out the other side of the tunnel. Never again!

So how do we avoid becoming slaves to our patterns? Here are some of my suggestions, from a guy’s perspective:
  1. Do not treat your partner as a mere dummy to try moves on – you are, in fact, dancing with another human being. This is VERY important, it means that you should pay attention to your partner and observe what she is doing. Is she enjoying the dance? Is she having trouble following you? Is she even paying attention to you? By establishing a connection with your partner, you’ve just made the first big step towards making the dance enjoyable.
  2. Adjust your lead – every dance partner is different, like a beautiful and unique snowflake *cough*, whether it be height, size, arm length, or dance experience. Make sure that your partner is comfortable following the more basic moves before you start throwing around advanced patterns and combinations! Remember, in the majority of cases, if the pattern does not work, the lead is to blame.
  3. Be musical – no matter no many fancy patterns you are able to throw around, if you don’t express them with music, you are not dancing well. A good lead is able to identify what the music is trying to say (romantic? fun? cheeky?) and dance accordingly. If the music is fast and exciting, don’t start leading long and complex moves because you’ll pretzel your partner; instead, stick to simple turns and cross-body leads, do some shines and goof off. If the music is slow and sensual, be bold, jump into the hard stuff and impress her with the depth of your repertoire.
I guess it all comes down to this – dancing is never just patterns; it’s about enjoying the music, and each other’s company! So the next time you’re out dancing, take a look at what your partner is up to, and don’t forget to smile!
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